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Outlook on Federer remains same following Tsonga upset; more mail


I am mourning. And honestly, I did not see this coming. Roger Federer doesn't make it to the finals for the second year in a row. The Williams sisters crash out on the same day, in the fourth round! Three players with 15 Wimbledon titles between them. Three players that brought me to tennis in the first place. Is this really the end of an era? Tell me there is reason to hope. Can I please have [you] reassure common folks like me that Roger will face Rafael Nadal in another major final, and that Serena Williams will fight off another championship point! -- Charith, Bangalore

• Let's start today by dispensing plaudits or, as the kids call them, props. To Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal for winning four-set quarterfinals on a day when neither had their best stuff. To Bernie Tomic for staring down the moment -- a good sign for the future -- and outplaying Djokovic for large chunks of time. To Andy Murray for taking care of business. Mostly to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for playing a dazzling three sets of tennis and coming back to defeat Federer.

No sooner had they shaken hands at the net, the mail and tweets came from the "career undertakers" prepared to squirt embalming fluid on Federer. Yet, here's what's funny about today's match: it doesn't really change the picture at all. Federer is not the player he once was. It's delusional to argue otherwise. He doesn't win as much. He's now lost at Wimbledon three of the last four years. He doesn't compete as consistently. He's more susceptible to big ball strikers. Take Nadal out of the equation and notice his opponents in this run of Slam losses: Robin Soderling, Tomas Berdych, Djokovic and Tsonga (and Juan Martin del Potro before that), all of them big, flat hitters who more or less overpowered him.

Here's the bright side: He's still a reliable second-week player. Even in these last 18 months, he's gone QF/QF/SF/SF/F/QF at the majors. Some days he can deliver the goods, as he did last month against Djokovic. Some days he can't, such as he couldn't Wednesday when Tsonga was simply better in the end -- and gave Federer no sniffs on the serve. If he's losing in week one and being upset by the likes of George Bastl, the picture changes. If he's back to winning Slams, the picture changes. But right now Federer is what he is: a contender at every Slam, a favorite at none.

Let's get a few more data points before we discuss the Williams sisters! Jon -- if you believe in being "in the zone," then Jo was the "mayor" of the zone at Centre Court, yeah? -- Deepak, Melbourne, Australia

• The question now: can he extend his stay? Those last three sets were sensational. Serving. Shotmaking. Net play. Today's match recalled Tsonga's obliteration of Nadal in Melbourne in 2008. This was one of those Wii Tennis matches. Then he came back down to earth. It's probably worth noting, though, that in Tsonga's news conference he was astonishingly calm. Low-humming answer. Nothing sinister but few smiles. Hardly in disbelief. And, without being arrogant, there were a few sound bites that suggested he knew he had this in him. "I think I'm the kind of player who likes these big moments."

Has Tsonga consented to the unfortunate nickname of "Joe-Willie?" I cringe every time I hear Brad Gilbert call him that -- makes him sound like someone who ought to be huntin' for vittles for granny to cook up. For my money, that's taking it one step too far unless he has consented. Come to think of it, is there some unwritten rule that all tennis players will be given a nickname ending in "ie/y?" Pammy Shriver, Frankie Schiavone, Kimmy Clijsters, Joe Willie ... ick! -- Shaun Richardson, Boston

• Since when do nicknames require consent? I know a lot are offended by Gilbert, his nicknames, and whip out the "Ugly American" charge. But it comes from the right place. It's chummy, not derisive.

Do the linespeople receive any sort of reprimand for their missed calls? This came to my attention while watching the Petra Kvitova-Tsvetana Pironkova match. The number of challenges issued were quite extensive, and the number of overturns were incredible. And most of them seemed to come from the same baseline! Is that lineswoman looking for work elsewhere right about now? Or at least, does she have no prayer of working the semis or the final? -- Steve, Hoover, Ala.

• They are indeed reprimanded. Sometimes harshly. Just not publicly. Which is as it should be. When athletes get a whiff that a sports official is on shaky ground with their superiors, said official is cooked. Here's a mailbag mandate. Or at least a request. Can we be critical -- which is fine when warranted -- without calling for heads? Unemployment is brutal stuff. Too often we're very cavalier about demanding someone be fired. The official yesterday surely had a rough time out there. But we suggesting she lose her job over one bad day at the office?

Does anything please anybody anymore? Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray dominate the Slams, and people worry about the men's game. No one dominates the women's draws at Slams and is wide open, and people criticize the women's game. What do people want? -- D.C., Seattle

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• Agree. The top four players have each been for two or three Grand Slams this year. How can that be a bad thing, especially when you can see the alternative, occurring, as it is, simultaneously on the women's side?

Come on, Jon. Nadal has called the trainer out numerous times in his career in tough matches at majors. It's part of his MO to control the pace of the match at all costs. He did when down 5-2 in the 1st set to Federer in the French Open final this year. He did it at Wimbledon last year (remember his phantom "knee" injury?). It's part and parcel of the rest of his on-court behavior that you talk about (e.g., time between points, adjust the water bottles, making his opponent wait). What other top player on the tour has done this as regularly as Nadal? -- Rick Smith, Toronto

• Two theories, apart from gamesmanship, that have been floating around. 1) Nadal worries about his durability more than he worries about opponents. The former is, in his mind, much more a threat to his success. So he is panicked by aches and pains and tweaks in a way he isn't panicked by 4-4 in the fifth set. 2) When players pull out of events, they require an excuse that goes beyond fatigue. (See: the fallout from Federer when he bailed on Halle.) By referencing injury and frequently calling the trainer, Nadal can cite the injury when he pulls out of Davis Cup and decides, hypothetically, that he doesn't want to play both Cincinnati and Canada. Just some food for thought.

I am getting disturbed these days with all negativity in sports from all the obscenities surrounding the David Haye-Wladimir Klitschko match, soccer players who cannot stop fooling around with prostitutes, basketball players willing to lock fans out for a full season and so on. How good is tennis as a sport! So many old and young tennis players still perform with grace. Specifically Wimbledon every year as tennis' pinnacle must be considered as one of the world's top sporting events. -- Bernie Nissen, Hong Kong

• For the record, the Klitschko brothers are just comically awful trash talkers. (Any time your opponent describes you in the most vile terms and, in response, you reference your advanced degree, it's time for new material.) Anyway, yes, you're right. If the worse thing we can say about the top tennis players is that a) they're arrogant and b) they call the trainer too often, we're doing pretty well.

• Luke of Adelaide: Alicia Molik made an interesting point while commentating a match for Fox Sports in Australia. She said she felt that a contributing reason for the prevalence of parent/coaches on the WTA is because it can be more cost effective for the player. While Grand Slams provide equal prize money, all the other tour events do not. She also claimed 60 percent of a female tennis player's earnings can come from Grand Slam events, and if a player isn't able to take deep cuts into Grand Slam draws consistently, then hiring a high-quality professional coach and breaking even at the end of the year becomes a huge problem. Interesting food for thought when equal prize money is brought up as a negative.

• John Isner will be headed to Newport, R.I., for Fourth of July week to compete in the Campbell's Hall of Fame Tennis Championships, hosted at the International Tennis Hall of Fame on July 4-10.

• The United States Tennis Association announced the nine national finalists for the 2011 USTA Starfish Award. The award honors exceptional high school coaches who have a profound impact on young people's lives through a "No-Cut" policy for their high school tennis teams: Terri Cunningham of Winter Park (Fla.) High School; Kenneth Griffith of Indian Head (Md.) Henry E. Lackey High School; Jim Neal of Niskayuna (N.Y.) High School; Jim Solomon of West Hartford (Conn.) Hall High School; Donna Stauffer of Wildwood (Mo.) Lafayette High School; Roger Sunderman of Hastings (Neb.) High School; Don Tellefsen of Oak Creek (Wis.) High School; Marceil Whitney of Redmond (Was.) High School and Matt Wiemers of McCook (Neb.) High School.

• Don of London: Interesting video about how different the balls are. Michael Llodra recognizes them blindly.

• A Nielsen poll of stylish players.

• Jen of Seattle: Did you see the interactive tennis grunting quiz in Slate magazine? I got 8 out of 9 right.

• Our man @ubitennis just gave me a sheet noting that Federer is 16-13 in 5-setters (55 percent). ... Nadal? 15-3 (83 percent).